Catalectic Verse

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A catalectic line is a metrically incomplete line of verse, lacking a syllable at the end or ending with an incomplete foot. One form of catalexis is headlessness, where the unstressed syllable is dropped from the beginning of the line.
Making a meter cataletic can drastically change the feeling of the poem, and is often used to achieve a certain effect. Compare this selection from Book III of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha” with that from W. H. Auden’s “Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love”. The first is in trochaic tetrameter, and the second in trochaic tetrameter catalectic (or headless iambic tetrameter).
By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them;
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.
–H. W. Longfellow
Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.
–W. H. Auden
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Example Poem
Sheila sought the solace soon of Sam.
Harlots’ hearts were hardened oft by men.
See, most men just didn’t give a damn.
Sam loved legs and thighs and thighs again.
Sam, at four-oh-four did tip the scale.
Sheila weighed a bout one half of that.
She was standby fill-in piece of tail.
Sailor boys last night had called her fat!
Sam said,” Shiela you are just right size.
You’re the only woman here with thighs.”
© Lawrencealot РMay 22, 2012

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